TransAfrica Forum Issue Brief

(Vol. 5, No. 1)
by TransAfrica Forum
Washington, DC, United States
February-March 1986
10 pages
Type: Newsletter
Coverage in Africa: Namibia, South Africa, Africa
Coverage outside Africa: United States
Language: English
Contents:  APARTHEID AND LABOR UNIONS • BLACK UNIONS UNDER APARTHEID: SUPPRESSION AND DEFIANT CHALLENGE • AMERICAN UNIONS AGAINST APARTHEID: CONTROVERSY AND PROMISE • Table I: Racial Proportions Within Organized South African Labor • Table II: Changes in the Composition of Registered South African Trade Unions • Table III: Strikes and Work Stoppages In South Africa, 1973-84 • This ISSUE BRIEF begins with an interview with Dennis Akumu, long-serving head of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity, (OATUU), which could be described as the African continent's equivalent of the AFL-CIO. He discusses the difficult relationship between the OATUU and the U.S. AFL-CIO, which he regards as an ally of the Reagan administration. He urges U.S. workers, especially Black workers, to form local committees to oppose apartheid. Over the past two years, the U.S. labor movement, from the AFL-CIO to diverse locals across the country, have been moving to demand the elimination of apartheid. Black unions in South Africa were allowed to register with the government for the first time in 1979. Far from what the apartheid propagandists and apologists claim, the motivation behind both the Wiehahn Commission and the 1979 Industrial Act was not reform and liberalization but rather more control. Black unions have a long history in South Africa. In the mid 1920's, the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union had an estimated membership of 100,000; by 1945, 119 black unions with a combined membership of 158,000 had come together to form the Council of Non-European Trade Unions. In 1955, after a white-dominated TUCSA expelled all Africans, SACTU, the South African Congress of Trade Unions, was formed. U.S. trade unions have providing much-needed funding and technical assistance to South African black unions and the U.S. trade union movement has helped to publicize the plight of black workers in South Africa. But the involvement of the AFL-CIO, particularly, with black South African workers has generated considerable criticisms, including from the liberation movements and U.S. anti-apartheid activists. One criticism is that the assistance they give to South Africans comes principally from U.S. government funds, which are regarded as suspect. Also, many in the U.S. labor establishment still argue that some U.S. investments in South Africa could contribute to positive change in apartheid, citing the discredited Sullivan Principles as the way to measure the behavior of U.S. companies in South Africa. The U.S. labor movement, like the U.S. government, continues a pariah-like treatment of the banned South African liberation movements. However, over the last two years the role U.S. unions are playing has been changing. Many national unions and diverse locals have adopted clearer positions on South Africa. The AFL-CIO appears less leery of associating with non-labor anti-apartheid forces, and AFL-CIO affiliates in major U.S. cities have been vital to the Free South Africa Movement (FSAM). Also, the United Mine Workers Union (UMW) is educating its membership and the public about apartheid and its disastrous impact on American society and jobs. The newsletter mentions Namibian National Union of Workers, the OAU (Organization of African Unity), the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Allied Workers Union (SAAWU), the International Labor Organization (ILO), African-American Labor Center (AALC), AALC Executive Director Patrick O'Farrell, South African miners, black labor unrest in 1973-1976, the Durban strikes of 1973 and 1974, National Manpower Commission, the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU), the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU), Chief Mangosuthu G. Buthelezi, the United Democratic Front (UDF), Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, the Metal and Allied Workers Union (MAWU), Transvaal Alloys, Nord-Deutsche Affinerie, the Dunlop Rubber Company, Hart Limited, militancy, multi-racialism, the South African Institute of Race Relations, and TransAfrica Forum staff Niikwao Akuetteh, Ibrahim J. Gassama, Jennifer Achieng, Maryse-Noelle Mills, Mwiza Munthali, Perrin B. Reid, and Randall Robinson.
Used by permission of TransAfrica Forum.
Collection: William Minter Southern Africa Papers